Del Mar’s new Civic Center resolves this Southern California village’s longstanding need for a centralized venue where people can come together to celebrate community and exercise civic engagement. Prior to this development, Del Mar’s public activities were scattered throughout the city, often occurring in private-sector spaces. The new Civic Center consolidates primary public functions in one location and places them at the heart of the coastal town.
“City Halls have evolved into being much more than places representing civic gravitas. They are a public investment in the infrastructure for the social aspects of community, where civic identity is formed through the ritual of public gatherings that are made possible by these spaces,” notes Mike Jobes, design principal for the project.
Located on a 1.5-acre property adjacent to Camino Del Mar, the town’s main thoroughfare, the Civic Center functions as a series of interconnected structures, courtyards and terraces and open spaces that follow the contours of the site, while preserving spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean. The complex includes a 3,000-square-foot Town Hall, a 9,000-square-foot City Hall, a 20,000-square-foot Town Commons, as well as parking for 140 vehicles, most of which is discretely tucked below the complex. The majority of the site is dedicated to public open space with planted gardens, active and passive courtyards, and an area for the community farmer’s market.
The Civic Center’s design is derived from its local context: residential in scale and built using warm, natural materials, such as wood and colored concrete inspired by the sandstone bluffs below. Spaces flow from one to another, as well as from inside to outside, like a set of family beachside cottages. The landscape showcases native and drought tolerant plants, including Torrey pines that have defined the area for generations. Careful placement of new pines—noted for their significant loss of needles and cones—will minimize maintenance and ensure their long-term care and survival.
Town Hall, the community meeting space, is symbolically pulled to the edge of the site to reinforce the public nature of the complex. Low slung in stature, the interior is open and features exposed wood beams, which take their inspiration from the needles and branches of the region’s Torrey pine. A cupola tops the space and, paired with operable clerestory windows, provides natural ventilation. The area’s mild climate means that the complex essentially functions off-the-grid (the complex was designed for net zero operations). Passive ventilation provides cooling (windows are programmed to open when appropriate). Site water is captured for reuse. A rooftop solar array and battery system meet approximately 75 percent of the Center’s electrical demand.
City Hall is composed of two primary spaces—city council chambers and administrative offices—that are connected by an enclosed breezeway. To accommodate large group council meetings, the breezeway is fitted with speakers and an accordion-like glass wall that can be opened to merge the two spaces. Council chamber’s seating and the custom-built dais are mobile to make way for special events.
Decades in the making, the Del Mar Civic Center is, at its core, an expression of place and civic commitment. With its emphasis on indoor and outdoor public gathering spaces, the modest yet considered complex strives to be a good neighbor in this landscape of human-scaled spaces and well-loved nature.